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The Study of Play (April 2019): Home

By Charles Kroncke and Ronald F. White


This essay first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Choice (volume 56 | issue 8).


In the 1920s a genre of scholarly material addressing the facts and values associated with human play started to emerge. Scholars in the social and biological sciences were interested in factual questions: What is play? How did humans—children and adults—play in the past? How do humans play today? And, ultimately, why do humans play? Scholars in other broad areas—philosophers, ethicists, political scientists— asked normative questions concerning the moral and legal values that underlie various forms of human play: Are there timeless universals that indicate how children play or ought to play, or are playtime facts and/or values relative to time and place? What are the moral and legal constraints on play set by various cultures, at various times, and in various places? How and why do various cultures regulate how humans, particularly children, ought to play?

Although much has been much written on play, most of it has been specifically disciplinary, generated by scholars who rarely examine works outside of their chosen field of study. This bibliographic essay attempts to break down those barriers in support of interdisciplinary playtime research, including works that address both the facts and values. Since this “playtime genre” is vast and complex, this essay will (somewhat arbitrarily) focus on scholarly work in the Western tradition published since 2000, with a particular emphasis on child play.

Both authors are at Mount St. Joseph University, where Charles Kroncke is professor of economics and Ronald F. White is professor of philosophy.